Mental health professionals warn us that the most horrific traumas from the Corona pandemic have yet to hit us. Psychological effects of anxiety continue to escalate in the form of lost livelihoods, emotional upheaval, food and shelter insecurity, and even death continue to plague many.
The sheer scale of disasters leaves the most stable among us in emotional and mental crisis. Because of the emotional and mental fallout, in the wake of lengthy isolational demands, we now face record breaking surges of drug abuse, suicide, and PTSD symptoms from every angle.
Let’s start with you. What’s made you edgy, anxious, or afraid this week? And what’s wowed you over the past week?
Are you slogging through the mire during this difficult pandemic? Discover 50 brain based ways to side-step fear or anxiety better than you expect! Come back daily for another tool, see how I used it to reboot my day, and share your attempts. This first blog includes the first 10 anxiety-buster tools and will be followed by the second blog with tools 11 – 20 and so on. The tools point out typical entry places for anxiety to creep into our emotions, as well as brain based strategies for stress-free living.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 1 – with another power tool to cope in tough times from neural and cognitive sciences: If we bottleneck the brain we risk being imprisoned in life’s mire. The opposite is also true. Mindfully consider a specific blessing and we top up joy again in our mental storehouse. When we can say we are blessed, and mean it, we are fully engaged in a magical journey, one without anxiety. Today I plan to walk alone to focus on and restore treasured memories of a few specific blessings in my life at this moment. You?
Reflection after tool 1 use: This tool proved harder to use than expected, so I feel glad to have hung in. It started strong, and I felt blessed about many of my provisions and people I feel close to. However, there were times when I became distracted and drifted back to vivid memories about events that make me sad. Perhaps my best growth was awareness of both my blessings and my tendency to look past these and fret about a cup half full. Awareness turned my focus back to the moment, and I regained a sense of blessing each time that happened. Let us know what you think about the brains’ requirement for observable action in order to change its proclivities for more fun and less fear.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 2 – with another power tool to cope in tough times from neural and cognitive sciences: The brain stores many anxiety-building triggers and each time life trips up on these, we will likely suffer from worries that can feel as if the trauma were newly experienced. Over time, our intuitive or intrapersonal intelligence gets defined by stressful lies interjected into our day, in weeds that prevent awesome talents and fun adventures our brains can offer us.
We cannot tackle all our stored anxiety triggers at once, but we can break one key link. Reminded that our brains require us to act before they rewire and reboot for more of the same, I plan to go after a tough stressor today with an overcoming action a therapist might offer! Check back tomorrow to see my follow-up suggestion within the day 3 brain tool!
Reflection after tool 2 use: When we imagine we will suggesting a stress-busting strategy as advice to a person we love, we trick our brains. We also see our own anxiety problem through a different filter in our role as strategist for a person we care about. In this way we are able to see in new ways, and mentally equipped to try a doable strategy as if it came to us from a gifted therapist. What lowered anxiety visibly for you when you tried tool 2 above?
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 3 – with another power tool to cope in tough times from neural and cognitive sciences: If the memory we raised (see tool illustrated below) is firmly planted in our mind over time, we will likely have to burn it on a few intrusions before it stops pestering us with anxiety. Each time we burn a sad experience, for example, we also prepare mental real estate to replace its presence with a healthy emotion displayed on our mental screen.
With the action suggested in this too, we literally lay down new neural connections toward a stress-free possibility to replace (or at least diminish) the sad memory that leaves us feeling inadequate or lesser than. We open the door to feeling cherished and loved as a person worth value and if we hold grace as vital, we see ourselves as a person loved unconditionally, in spite of weakness and mistakes we’ve displayed in past. Just as we are, we find new openings for courage and calm, after we rid our memory screens from distractions that stress and perpetuate anxiety. We lower our toxic cortisol chemicals that fuel despair, and raise our serotonin chemicals in ways that jettison our brains to readjust for less sadness fueled and more frequent defaults to hope stored in our basal ganglia.
Reflection after tool 3 use: Each time that specific memory returns I now see it burn in fire again, rather than burn my emotional health. Each time I see a fire’s flame, I’m excited to associate less anxiety now and more freedom to leap forward and find calm and contentment in many different situations. As we visualize a blank screen projected at the back of our minds, we set up our brain for a stress-free and lighter day rather than a day where we slog through the mire with a sad memory on our backs.
Perhaps today’s tool works well to amp up an anxiety-free day, without expectations. Perhaps that fire helps us to let a broken relationship go!
No longer will we be anxious to be understood, when we begin to understand that state of calm more. As Khalil Gibrand pointed out: If you love somebody, let them go. If they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.
Letting go leaves us with anxiety-free expectations on a regular basis. Check back tomorrow for another sizzling brain based tool that failed few and freed many during my lifetime of international brain conferences.
One vital key here is to use each tool actively and try out its strength. Then determine if each tool adds clear evidence of more consistent calm to your brain. While these tools and their effectiveness differs, what remains the same is our brain’s requirement for action as its pathway to improve. Unless we act differently to make change possible, our brains fail to reshuffle and add new neuron connections toward a stress-free day. These suggested tasks all strike at anxiety and all relate to specific brain facts that holds ability to increase calm and decrease mental chaos. Overtime, expect to see a dynamic pattern of calm as our basal ganglia stores overcoming actions we do with tools listed here.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 4 – with another power tool to cope in tough times from neural and cognitive sciences: Forgiveness literally alters a brain’s wiring with new neuron pathways into emotional well-being. Two months after my mother died of cancer, I found myself at 14 alone on Barrington Street in Halifax in April. I watched six young siblings crumble around me and felt myself falling too under the strain as we trudged together toward dusk that hovered over the city center. During years of struggle and homelessness, fear and unforgiveness etched haunting graffiti images across screens along the back of my mind. Along with anxiety, came a nagging inability to let go of disappointments and memories of domestic violence.
To forgive is not to change others, but to change ourselves to become the person we’d like others to see in us. We now know a great deal more about our brain’s ability to change, which is called plasticity, and which requires action on our part. Forgiveness reboots our brains to help us shift focus and move ahead without blame or a need to explain our position to those who criticize. When we forgive we build new neuron connections to replace angst with acceptance. We learn to accept personal failures and apologize to others more readily. Our brains begin to present calm confidence in difficult situations. Have you been there?
Anxiety adds to mental hostility and stress. When we yield to worry, we struggle against alone times rather than cherish reflective moments in those intrapersonal opportunities. We fret in ways that fuel more toxic cortisol that increases stress and literally shrinks our brain. Holding onto hurts, triggers dangerous mental chemicals that rob our courage to embrace kindness. It takes repeated forgiveness to show genuine care for others, especially those who disagree or disapprove of us.
In everyday life, forgiveness measures our health and well-being, in spite of injustices and disappointments. To forgive a person who judges or criticizes us not only unleashes a new chemical and electrical circuitry for letting go. It moves us from victims to victors. At first we limp past hurdles of anger or grief, and eventually we begin to well up compassion and understanding for those we forgive.
Reflection after tool 4 use: Anxiety wears many coats and unforgiveness is one of these. Our 4th brain based anxiety-free tool supports an open mind and helps us sustain forgiveness. I’m talking about pardon that doesn’t depend on another person feeling regret or sharing in our hurt. The person we forgive today does not need to be present, nor does that person need to be alive. I simply imagine the person sitting across from me, and I forgive with a determination to treat that person as if they had not injured me. It takes time, and it works wonders as it frees us to meet that person without anxiety’s jitters! Every time those jitters return, forgive again, and eventually we feel nothing but care when we think of that person.
Glad to reflect today on the fact that we can enjoy more serotonin to admit our mistakes quicker and treat others as if we walked in their shoes when conflicts arise. Wonderful to remember how our brain responds with a warmth of compassion, care and curiosity – as forgiveness magically reconnects us to people we cherish. What’s not to love about a day without pesky worry and anxiety that leaves us rattled?
Carefree, close friendships and trusted relationships tend to follow when we prepare mentally for more calm. No wonder we experience less disappointment. Holidays can be the best time to check our forgiving quotient. Uneasy feelings? Have you noticed that we often come face to face with those we need to forgive at reunions?
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 5– Fun and laughter are to a stress free-brain what worry and venting are to its anxious opposite. Yet research shows that children laugh 300 to 400 times a day, compared to 17 times that adults laugh. Consider a person you admire who laughs easily and often. We likely have at least one person in our circle who seems laid back, and silly in ways that support others who face tough times by adding a lighter touch. This person likely laughs at self easily and looks for humor in the little things we may miss or rush past. Jump onto that person’s orbit today or whenever possible, and we begin to lighten up our personal game. It’s a surefire way to sidestep any generalized despair where it seems impossible to articulate what makes us restless. How so?
Simply connect with a fun-lover on a regular basis and our brain will do the rest. Our minds come with ready-made mirror neurons that literally copy and paste other people’s personality traits into our own. See why we need to avoid cynics and seek out those who inspire fun, laughter and silly adventures? No surprise that fun and a good belly laugh offer tools to build less anxiety and more zest for living our best lives – even in difficult settings. What may surprise us, is that we can enjoy more fun and humor with others while at the same time we lower anxious moments and gain back time we typically spend worrying.
Reflection after tool 5 use: Our 5th brain based anxiety-free tool calls for action that sets in motion how we spend regular time with those who value laughter, fun and a carefree approach to solve problems with silly solutions that work well. Laugh together like three year olds, and we stay active, curious and ready to be surprised by joy from others. Hearty laughter often leaves us assured all is well with our soul. We may even begin to understand how another person we admire faces let-downs or disappointments with fewer knots or bumps of stress and frustration along the way.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 6 – with another power tool to cope in tough times from neural and cognitive sciences: More than 40 million Americans live with some serious form of an anxiety disorder. Loss often leads to panic, worry or fear and unless we give ourselves an exit strategy we can spend an entire lifetime trying to repair and recover from loss of friends, family, finances, freedom or failed expectations.
Emotional reactions to loss such as panic attacks, tempt us to reach for fast food, overuse alcohol, withdraw into self-preoccupation or lash out in blame. With every unhealthy reaction we can step dangerously closer to a default into anxiety as a way to cope with our specific loss.
Perhaps most perilous is the fact that we stockpile every emotional reaction in our brain’s amygdala. These stored emotional reactions begin to exacerbate anxious responses at every future memory or mention of this loss or any similar loss.
Sketch a new image with help from our brain’s working memory and we can replace an anxiety-ridden loss. We will also store that new iconic replacement in the seat of our emotions, our amygdala, for use going forward. For example, my closest friend of over 26 years died unexpectedly in a tragic fall down my front stairs. Every glance at these stairs in my beloved home left me fearful and I could barely bring myself to walk down the dreaded stairway, without tears of Robyn’s last day in my life. Then after a few days of avoiding the stairs I exchanged the death trap image, for another visual I could live beyond grief with, as Robyn would have wanted. A person of great faith, Robyn knew that heaven was her final resting home, so as I remembered here I suddenly saw my home as her stairway to heaven. Amazing that new image of heaven’s stairway lowered anxiety, enabled me to freely walk up and down all levels of my home again, and helped me to begin to heal from the horrific loss suffered with my dear friend’s departure.
If we consistently see loss of friends, family or failed finances in the CONVID-19 pandemic, we could well be headed into an anxiety disorder without a recovery plan. In contrast, if we name a worrisome image we then can create a counterpart visual that will restore hope through a healthy filter, we free up mental energy to move forward. The first question to ask is: What image is stockpiled in our amygdala that still adds fear, brings tears, or drains our emotions with loss?
Reflection after tool 6 use: I feared the coronavirus pandemic at the start and especially worried that I’d be trapped far too long in a tiny apartment, alone and without people I care about nearby. My dreaded image of isolation lasted for the entire first week. Recently this anxiety-busting tool helped me to re-frame this pandemic isolation into an icon that helps me forward. I filled my days with learning piano, texting two treasured grandchildren daily, reading and expressing more gratitude for the gift of family and friends I’ll see again after our isolation ends. Not a perfect image, but one I could live with and one that plucks out despair that seeped into mental filters in that initial week. I reversed a cup half-empty where anxiety created chaos after we were required to shelter at home alone. Rather than sit home and worry I found myself planning adventurous walks, and dreaming again about golf and deep discussions with good friends.
During a walk along our favorite creek, or sitting under a shaded tree, we are better equipped to toss a troubling version of our future and add a new filter that shows anxiety-free adventures we will plan now and enjoy in time.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 7: We crave autonomy on one hand, and slip into unhealthy dependence and stress on the other. Anxiety spikes if we help a less fortunate neighbor, and that neighbor leans too hard, expecting more than we can give. Seniors panic if adult children attempt to parent or push them into undesired places. If bureaucratic institutions treat us like needy children, or disregard our autonomy, we fret and grow increasingly frustrated.
Autonomy comes from the Greek root “auto” meaning “self, and “nomos” which means “custom” or “law.” It refers to our right to self-govern or self-rule. It helps us to understand anxiety that increases when we lose our ability to make choices. It defines healthy decisions we make daily without interference from any overly authoritarian figure. It describes the opposite of what a senior said recently about his independent living setting, “They treat me like a toddler here!”
Few fail to escape at times, the angst that lies between anxiety and personal freedom. Parents worry when grandparents take too many liberties that go against their parental wishes. Children grow anxious with too many rigid demands from parents, and too little consideration of their own freedom. Autonomy is essential to mental health because we are created with freewill. We grow emotionally stronger under self-directing freedom and we especially prosper mentally under moral independence and personal autonomy.
Not that autonomy infers the kind of independence that avoids other’s views, lacks care for diverse insights, or rebels against any reasonable authority. Instead, it’s a deeply felt endorsement for our creative gift of freewill, as a free commitment to choose our own actions, and a commitment to value and learn from other people’s choices.
Sure, autonomy takes a new skill for those neighbors who try to yield their freedom over to us by not letting go and not moving on, after we step in for a time to help them out. At its zenith, healthy independence leads to deeper reflection in ways that select and evaluate thoughtful actions. At its worst the lack of autonomy prevents our ability to be free, relaxed and deeply engaged with others we value. Autonomy helps us to avoid impulse actions that tend to arise when we feel pressure externally or suffer internal compulsions from a lack of opportunity to act freely.
Anxiety follows when we attempt to block independence of our own or others’ thoughts and actions. When we lose an ability to act on personal values or interests, we panic. In contrast, when we remain autonomous we also retain a sense of self-worth and self-respect. Healthy autonomy comes from anxiety-free living with a healthy understanding of what matters most to us. When we feel free to make decisions, we feel more peaceful, in spite of mistakes we make along the way. We cherish independence and value an ability to get by on our own, without too much help restrictive help from others. We hire experts to guide good choices, we build trust with family and friends by honoring their choices and respecting boundaries. We build autonomy and shun dependency that leads to non-autonomy.
Anxiety rises when autonomy is blocked so that people at any age fear they have no choices left. Whenever we yield over our independence, or lose the ability to remain the source of our own actions we risk taking on stress like iron filings to a magnet. Autonomy-related anxiety is not restricted to personal freedom but it also extends to minority groups who crave greater political freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination.
Reflection after tool 7 use: Feeling anxious or pressured to act against our desires and goals?
This pandemic crisis, as well as mounting research shows how anxiety spikes when autonomy gets blocked, we feel bullied or personal barriers are breached. Stress comes with autonomy abuse, much like iron filings to a magnet.
How could we express the freedom we need in a way that also expresses love and respect we hold for others around us. To find and act autonomously on this brain based tool is to free up our frontal cortex, where our finest decisions are made, and to store emotional health in our amygdala so we can express deep care we hold for others’ autonomy, regardless of their age or status.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 8: Some see intelligence as a state of mind. If so, anxiety is surely a future-oriented state of mind. Henry Ford came close to defining who’s smart and who’s not when he claimed, “If you say you can or say you can’t – it’s true.”
It’s that sucker punch to the gut when a challenge presents and we fail to find a solution. When we worry we are not smart enough to resolve everyday problems so our brains fall into line and we do not. We also fear we will not be smart enough if compared to colleagues, so we tend to demonstrate that we “can’t”.
When these dreaded concerns of inadequacy throw us off track mentally we give up trying to step toward a smarter version of ourselves. Instead we vent that we have less schooling than others. We recall with vivid detail the position or contract we lost to a more intelligent applicant, with advantages we lack. As anxiety spikes we tend to fixate on worst-case scenarios to justify our worries, and defend our unrealistic concerns.
Stress ties our amygdala in knots, so it’s no surprise we’re a nervous wreck ahead of that big presentation. We may compensate by convincing ourselves we are over our heads and therefore likely going to bomb as an imposter-of-knowledge. Sadly, nerves leave us less prepared for intellectual challenges, and fears trigger toxic chemicals into our brains. Unless we rethink how we view our multiple intelligences, we will continue to rationalize stress as a normal way to deal with our anxious concerns of inadequacy.
Spot the difference between flawed and accurate measures of human intelligence, however, and we are less likely to slip into the sweaty-hand-syndrome. Our fears of failure, tend to slip away when we swap out the outmoded question: “How smart am I?” Respond to a reconfigured question, ‘How am I smart? and we target our multiple intelligences to develop our many unique literacies:
Mathematical or logical intelligence enables us to use, grow and trace the logical chains of reasoning to discern where problems are rooted, and find more logical solutions.
Verbal linguistic intelligence includes our growing ability to read with deeper comprehension, and our skills to discuss or debate current trends. It equips us to write well and articulate complex ideas clearly.
Musical or rhythmic intelligence nudges us to compose musical solutions, listen to music for inspiration, or study those who have expanded our esthetic world through music.
Visual spatial intelligence equips us to create or use images, graphs, or visual portrayals to understand and explain both problems and possibilities in our everyday experience.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence helps us to engage in coordinated movement. This IQ form and literacy includes the skills to build well and to handle materials in ways that deepen understanding about past and future challenges and opportunities.
Interpersonal or social intelligence supports our abilities to discern and respond well to others’ moods, temperaments, motivations, and desires across diverse populations as we resolve social conflicts and draw people together.
Intrapersonal or introspective intelligence taps into our self-knowledge, integrity and discrimination for good or bad life choices for ourselves. This IQ grows through reflection, journaling, and healthy self-examination.
Naturalistic intelligence gives us mental tools to draw on patterns and designs in nature as a way to see real world problems and propose nature-related solutions for practical growth.
Reflection after tool 8 use: Within multiple intelligences we find mental tools to improve learning without anxiety, as a lifelong practice. Rather than see IQ as fixed and then stress about our perceived inadequate levels, we face failures as new stepping stones into contentment that grows and develops new mental acumen daily.
We recognize shame that too often triggers untruths about our IQ. Take language IQ for instance. We might see how every word spoken or music chosen can shape our day to sink or swim. We can question how language can come easier and meanings can yield more wealth, and avoid anxiety by playing more with words. We may do crosswords, compete for fun in scrabble, debate, or offer to speak about the value of laughter at a local club. We may search for stress-reducing ideas on the internet, write a blog, or type our best idea into 140 Twitter letters, as a practice to boost our linguistic brainpower and reduce anxiety.
Similarly, musical choices can move our muse as fluid and fun, or tank our talents as fixed and inadequate. Play Bach or Handel in the background during our next creative project, for example, and watch our moods improve, while stress flees. And there’s more.
What about our choice to move more? Hope to dance better? Want to move with coordinated grace? Then choose to shuffle and stretch so that kinesthetic intelligence kicks in with greater ease. Do it to grow it regardless of skills lacking or other limitations that hold those “fixed-IQ-notions” in prisons of inadequate concerns. I like to start with hikes in a nearby park or gradually begin to toss naturalistic intelligence into my mental mix with golf and on days I bowl with my grandchildren, most intelligences leap into life for all three of us.
Exchange IQ with talents and we shoot photos, graph results to support insights, engage art. No surprise that we also grow our expand spatial intelligence through more deliberate use of our spatial domain.
Simply start a schedule to plan to use more IQ in the coming week, and we’re already stretching our logical-mathematical IQ. Like other intelligences math genius grows more through math or logical choices, not merely by being a numbers guru. Start with baby steps and we lift off to new flights with use. Einstein put it this way: Education’s what remains after one’s forgotten everything learned in school. Do you agree?
Those use-it-or-lose-it warnings many seem overly simplistic, yet research offers the evidence of mental fluidity we can begin to see for ourselves. If we suspect we possess any mental traits discussed here, why not survey our intelligences – and alter a few daily choices that grow a few new prospects the way Ford fueled finer choices.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 9: Anxiety blocks our brains from the novelty of discovery. Awe and wonder inspire us to do the scientific method as a way to invent a finer way forward. It nudges us further to engage a wider community in our innovation or invention that sparks change. Awe assumes we will invent! First, we rethink our old approach (without regret). Next, we propose a possibility based on new research and current times (without fear). Third, we initiate an opportunity to improve on a process or product, based on new discoveries (without anxiety) for the benefit of all concerned. Learning with boredom and dread creates anxiety while wonder and awe open our minds to innovation and discovery. For the scientific method to retain relevancy, it will likely add one final step – “invent” so that wonder and delight for discovery fuel delight rather dysfunction and a jaded sense of worth in past approaches.
Questions about change and improved approaches were asked after hours of discussion with talented, and innovative researchers who claim to dislike their work. They felt disengaged at work and they spoke of being devalued in flawed systems. They won top science grants to investigate, but their organization gets low grades for care or morale. Have you seen it? While it fuels anxiety to fight rigid systems, new models draw people in and we come alive with awe, so the broken approaches fade.
Reflection after tool 9 use: Wonder and innovation engage both sides of the brain, to increase our ability to solve problems in our everyday lives. What if we lived out the scientific method with a mind to discover four new possibilities?
1). SPOT – We’d develop keen brainpower to spot and record accurate details for an innovative solution.
2). WONDER – We’d simply guess what outcomes might appear to a great question we raise.
3). TEST – We’d engage unique talents, experiences and prior knowledge and then test our implementation.
4). LEAD – We’d suggest truths or flaws of our guess, related to evidence of our key discoveries. Then we’d likely feel motivated to lead others into innovative results also, by facilitating questions and observing evidence to apply in ways that help discovery of new results. Yes, you’ve likely agree that we’d engage the scientific method, based on updated evidence and lived experience.
Have we pretended that to live with curiosity is too complex? If not, let’s encourage all humans to engage in life-changing scientific methods? We’d contribute brilliant insights and novel approaches for innovation we all crave. What do you think?
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 10: Whenever we find our imagination’s sweet spot, we’ve turned the dial toward fun and playfulness! Mention play to stressed or anxious leaders though, and watch the mother of all chins stick out in protest. It’s as if play and work could never be two oars in the same boat.
In spite of its bad wrap at times, the playful brain comes with unique equipment to free our mind, solve problems, or create brilliant mental adventures. Follow one or two new neuron pathways today and watch limiting habits fade as rigid ruts yield to infinite imaginings. It’s really about moving from STUCK in stress to UNSTUCK through playful possibilities!(Can you identify with this video?) Imagination – in its highest form of investigation, means doing whatever it takes to “get it done.”
Play becomes central to mentoring called mind-guiding that lays down new neuron pathways into innovative possibilities. It’s a matter of finding our imagination’s sweet spot, right where we are and at any given moment. How so?
Reflection after tool 10 use: Simply do one thing today in a new playful way and voila, we have just created a new neuron pathway for imagination’s infinite possibilities. Einstein dreamed of riding the curve of an arc and ended up proposing the theory of relativity. The opposite is also true. Do the same things in the same old way – and we will etch out an even deeper neuron pathway for boring habits that default us to stress.
Consider 10 pathways we follow into more imagination …
1. Kindle and design an idea. Start with a personal passion and follow the fun, as imagination becomes our creative power to advance an innovation, by opening vast and fascinating opportunities beyond what currently exists.
Just as the iPod for instance, started with an innovative idea, Steve Jobs and other mind-guides continue to design Apple products that revolutionize communication. Fast Company celebrated the last decade’s 14 biggest such design moments, all of which unveil the original ideas that rolled into products with possibilities. How does it happen? Our brain’s hippocampus releases a shot of dopamine in response to novelty. Anthony Grace at the University of Pittsburgh describes a feedback loop that involves a chemical and electrical interactions between dopamine and novel or unexpected events. This lively process appears to lock in memory, as it also engages the amygdala where the brain processes emotional information that feeds innovation.
2. Mimic creative people. Did you know brains come equipped to mimic those we hang with? Believe it or not, we can literally adopt another person’s inspiration by simply observing them and noticing what they say. It’s also true that while innovative play may be more vital than ever in our life, individuals who think act and build differently remain rare. That’s where our brain and a few inspirational suggestions can help out.
Mirror neurons show how innovative cultures and teams come from imitation – and this video on mirror neurons illustrates how we watch and mirror play in various cultures. Deep inside our brain cells are neurons that will fire in reaction to another’s beliefs as we roll play into new opportunities for innovation at work.
3. Link opposites together and build in play from both sides. Einstein mastered the art and science of sticking oddly matched pieces together in fun ways and so can we. Need a breakthrough to top up the creativity on a project? Then build an innovative culture of connecting opposites in playful ways that few non-innovators think to connect. Let’s say we design a game to debate a controversial topic such as racism, or wars? Play converts our tone into the brain’s delightful approach to tame our amygdala in ways that harness innovative energy. Rather than take potshots at people, consider disagreements as tools to build goodwill across differences, and diversity becomes our playful neuron pathway into innovative solutions. Play engages genius thinkers and it can prosper a wider community.
4. Create a round table to brainstorm a process. Start with a fun lunch invitation to a few people who tend to think outside boxes. Open your lunch session with a question such as What if .. and have everybody finish it by suggesting an innovation you could build together to improve a shared problem.
The other day I facilitated a round table of leaders across many fields, and after several unexpected angles tossed possibilities into the mix, we came up with a renewal project that none of us could have masterminded alone. Have you experienced ideas piggybacked onto others from alternative positions? Innovation, whether from arts or science, embodies mysteries to ponder. It’s that place that bubbles over in a circle where no brain is left behind. It’s where brilliant solutions tend to flow from pools just outside of prevailing thought, where people build beyond limitations. It’s where a culture of innovative thought hooks difficult facts onto ordinary experiences people live – so that learning increases in less time, with innovative designs as visible results.
5. Collaborate with a person who differs. Know anybody whose culture, ethnicity, beliefs or personality differs from yours? If not, propose an idea to a neighbor or supervisor. Innovation rarely waits for situations to improve but shapes dendrite brain cells by outside worlds that spark mental growth based more on what we do than what’s done to us. The opposite of toxic spaces is a climate of playful collaboration where innovative leaders engage opposing views to discover another direction created from different angles. To work together is to listen to new ideas and to engage another’s talents. Innovative partnerships tend to work better when different players share in a common vision, and when the outcomes and expectations are clearly defined.
6. Reward talent. Support talents whenever we see them in action and play tends to follow. Thank people. Tell others about their insights. Congratulate every successful outcome. Interview a talented peer and write about playful talents in a memo that you circulate. In too many circles problems go unsolved while some of the finest minds sit passively waiting to be encouraged, and yet we remain outside a playful process to bridge the gap between innovation and a finer way forward.
7. Pose two-footed questions. Toss fun, adventure and investigation into an ordinary day – and then expect extraordinary results. The best way to integrate playful innovation into our existing situation is to question ways that lead us into refreshing solutions. Start with a two-footed question and then discuss solution possibilities from imaginative angles. I presented a session on innovation and play to university faculty, and challenged participants with this question: What will innovation look like in the 21st Century, and how can our playful approaches help lead the way? How could a two-footed question launch your next innovative offering along a playful neuron pathway toward possibilities?
8. Capitalize on tone tools for tough times. Navigate through problems with breakneck speed toward a playful possibility. Innovation gets lost and ruts go deeper in toxic climates such as bullying or intimidation. It can happen faster than lightening strikes an iron rod in an electric storm. When stress or negativity shoot down the best ideas, and innovators wonder whether it’s a lot less stressful to hang up their cleats in favor of doing bare routines, tone tactics act like a vehicle to tug innovation back into play. It helps to invite an example of good tone from a gentle, and effective leader, and discuss how to offer olive branches back and forth at work. Or why not ask trusted peers what tone they hear in our words and compare their responses to what our words meant to convey.
9. Start social network discussions. Watch what’s trending online and engage people we know in fun, hopeful or humorous responses. I started a playful back-and-forth on Twitter to toss around insights and brain facts about multi-tasking as it affects innovation. We looked at research that shows how multi-tasking works against innovation because it bottle necks the brain’s ability to focus or innovate. Just as all brains wire differently though, we wanted to see how people view multi-tasking as it relates to their own playful innovation. Social networks add new colors and textures to playful pathways because people hold up fun experiences to the rainbow for another look.
10. Run from cynics. Skepticism, nay-saying and scorn faster than angry hornets, but we can risk playful adventures to dance delightfully beyond their sting. How so? Have you noticed how stocks rise when people speak hope and when play has its way? Or have you seen financial markets nosedive when naysayers spout doom and dread? Luckily pools of innovative brainpower lie beyond the sea of cynicism. This trend hinges on the fact that hope adds serotonin to spark curiosity and fuel playfulness in the brain. Cortisol, on the other hand, shuts down originality, and increases fear of failure. Make sense? When cynics spread fear, brainpower shuts down before innovation stands a chance. When creators spark curiosity imagination kicks into genius and another new playful pathway is born.